MENGELBERG CONDUCTS BEETHOVEN -- The Telefunken Recordings, 1937 -- 1942
Symphony No. 1 in C, Op. 21 (recorded November 8, 1938).  Symphony No. 3 in E Flat, Op. 55 "Eroica" (recorded November 11, 1940).  Symphony No. 4 in B Flat, Op. 60 (recorded December 1-2, 1938).  Symphony No. 5 in C Minor, Op. 67 (recorded April 4, 1937).  Symphony No. 6 in F, Op. 68 "Pastorale" (recorded December 22, 1937). Symphony No. 8 in F, Op. 93 (recorded November 9, 1938).  Ballet Music The Creatures of Prometheus Op. 43 (recorded November 1, 1942).
Amsterdam Concertgebouw Orchestra, Willem Mengelberg cond.

PEARL GEMS 0074 (three CDs)  (F) (ADD)  TT:  67:08 / 63:47 / 71:45 

Willem Mengelberg's first Beethoven recordings were with the predecessor of the New York Philharmonic.  In 1922 he made acoustic recordings of Coriolan overture and the first movement of Symphony No. 5 (Biddulph WHL 125/6), and in 1930 electric recordings of Egmont overture and the first and third symphonies (Pearl 9474 and Biddulph WHL 020). Mengelberg's first Beethoven symphony recording with the Concertgebouw was the Allegretto scherzando movement from Symphony No. 8 recorded June 10, 1927 for Columbia/Odeon (the previous year he had recorded overtures to Coriolan and Egmont). Later he would record Leonore 1 and 3 and remake Coriolan and Egmont, along with the "Turkish March" from The Ruins of Athens. From 1937/42 he recorded the symphonies listed above for Telefunken. 

Notes in this new Pearl set, point out that Mengelberg also recorded Symphony No. 2 for Telefunken, in April 1941, but it never was issued (one wonders what other treasures might be hidden somewhere?). The three excerpts from Prometheus were issued only on Capitol-Telefunken dubs, part of a series of early-LP issues all marred by remarkably noisy surfaces. For the Pearl set producer Mark Obert-Thorn obtained German, Swiss, French and Italian Telefunken, and Czech Ultraphon, 78s and used best available 78rpm sides for preparation of this set. A few of the symphonies have been issued before on CD, notably on Teldec (their recent issue of Symphonies 5 and 6 -- reviewed on this site -- is poorly transferred). But all are superceded by this definitive Pearl set. Mengelberg recorded  Symphony No. 5 twice, first  in 1937, again April 15, 1942, the latter issued under the same matrix and catalogue numbers as the earlier version.  The first recording is a rarity and fortunately included  here.

Performances are unique. There are no others like them. Often from bar to bar there are tempo changes, with frequent use of portamento (sliding from one note to the next) and incredible attention to detail. Often orchestration is altered. Fine program notes by Dr. Martin Leigh quote Mengelberg's comments about this:  "Beethoven, like many other composer, made changements in his scores even after publication, and then he also vos deaf. So vy not the conductor, also, who often knows mooch better than the composer."  As in all Mengelberg performances, these interpretations are a remarkable display of orchestral virtuosity, although not totally perfect as pointed out by producer O-T, who has gone to great effort to make these transfers correlate, in regard to 78rpm disc joins,  to Mengelberg's live performances.

Mention must  be made about high quality of the transfers.  Brilliance of the original recordings has not been compromised by efforts to eliminate surface noise.  Bass is solid and defined as much as it could be considering that these recordings were made sixty years ago.

This issue fills a major void.  Complementing it we have Mengelberg's live radio recordings from 1939/40 of all nine symphonies (Music & Arts 10005) plus a different Ninth from May 1, 1938 (Archive  ADCD 113) and the Violin Concerto recorded May 6, 1943 (with Guila Bustabo as soloist) (Archive ADCD 117 -- reviewed on this site).  I still treasure the initial Philips issue of the symphonies on LP in which they retained the two sharp raps on the podium that prefaced Mengelberg performances.  Part of the history of the performances, I think, but obviously producers feel otherwise.

R.E.B.(Oct. 2000)